Technology

Short takes: Android screenshots; LinkedIn invitation preferences; and hiding Excel headings

Every now and again, in an attempt to close down some “must blog about that” tabs in my browser, I write one of these “short takes” posts… here’s the latest snippets from the world of Mark…

Screen-grabbing on Android

There have been a couple of occasions recently when I’ve wanted to take a screenshot on my Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini… but couldn’t find how to…

Having to Google to work out how to take a screen shot in Android is… a little odd… but there are a couple of methods mentioned in an Android News post (and six more methods here).  And the reason for the most recent screengrab?  This:

Why does LinkedIn sometimes need an email address before you can send an invitation to connect

I’ve noticed a few times recently that I’ve needed to supply someone’s email address (to prove I know them) when connecting on LinkedIn.  Whilst some Internet reports suggest this is because you’ve been marked as having too many “I don’t know this person” reports, it seemed to be inconsistent for me so that’s not the only reason this happens.  It turns out that there’s an option deep within LinkedIn’s preferences to only receive invitations from members who know your email address.  Now that I know about it, I’ve activated it on my profile too…

Displaying/hiding row and column headings in Excel

I received an Excel workbook recently where all of the row and column headings were missing.  Confused? I certainly was (especially as I wanted to add some columns) but it seems it’s a simple configuration option (just maybe not that commonly used?!), at least in Excel 2013 (your mileage may vary with other versions).

Technology

Microsoft’s new focus on solutions…

Throughout its history, Microsoft has relied on a partner ecosystem to drive their business forward.  Now, as the Redmond giant transforms from a software/platform company to a devices and services company, that’s starting to change – and multiple teams are focusing all or part of their time on developing and publishing lab-tested, multi-product, end-to-end solution content.

As an employee of one of Microsoft’s largest partners, we can either ignore this, or work with Microsoft to ensure that we benefit from their solutions content and use it to improve our own, value-add services.  With that in mind, a colleague alerted me to the presence of Microsoft’s Solutions Advisory Board (SAB) and, yesterday, I attended the first of the bi-monthly webinars that the SAB team are hosting.

In an hour, we briefly covered 4 topics – at a very high level – but to give some idea of the scenarios that were discussed:

  • New Office Solutions Content – content that’s been created by Microsoft to help customers make the most of integrating Office client and server products (and, to move towards the cloud at their own pace).
  • Using Windows Azure for disaster recovery of an an-premises SharePoint farm.
  • Integrating Lync Server on premise with Exchange Online.
  • Hosting Internet websites (on SharePoint) in Windows Azure.

I plan to follow up with more detail next week (after the slides have been published) – but this could well be a very interesting forum to take part in…

In the meantime, check out the solution guides for IT professionals section on the TechNet website.

Technology

Publishing an Exchange calendar from Outlook to Outlook.com – not as simple as it should be

Despite the existence of standards, Calendar synchronisation is not easy.  I did once have a convoluted system that worked (sort of) but it fell apart when I switched away from using Google products.

Last night I was trying to work out why an old recurring calendar appointment from years ago was still popping up in the Windows 8.1 Calendar on my family PC.  It turned out to be quite simple: my outlook.com account was still subscribed to an old Google calendar that I don’t keep updated.  Unfortunately, what followed was about an hour of trying various solutions to get my calendars in sync again when I should really have been sleeping…

Removing old calendar subscriptions from outlook.com was fairly straightforward but I wanted to allow my work calendar (on Exchange) to be visible in Outlook.com (and hence on my family PC).  Access controls mean that a “pull” approach won’t work but, in the past, I’ve “pushed” a calendar using Outlook’s publish to a WebDAV server feature. When I had this working before (probably several PC rebuilds ago), I used a private URL for a Google calendar in the format  http://www.google.com/calendar/ical/user@domain.com/private-longstring/basic.ics but Outlook 2013 refused to use that location last night, telling me that “The address you typed is not valid. Check the address, and then try again.”

I could just maintain two calendars and overlay them in Outlook, but, whilst that will show me my personal and work appointments in a single view, it doesn’t help with free/busy time (i.e. stopping someone from booking an appointment with me at work when I’m not available to work). So my work calendar has to be the “master” and I simply sync it to another location so I can view it on other devices.

So, I set up an account with iCal Exchange (iCalShare is an alternative), creating a private calendar that Outlook was happy to publish to.  Result. Except it seems that outlook.com can only subscribe to calendars that are not password protected.  Meanwhile, Microsoft’s advice for sharing an Outlook calendar on Outlook.com would be better described as “export a point in time copy of an Outlook calendar to Outlook.com, and then share it”.

With my bed calling me, I set up a public calendar as a workaround but I’d rather keep my calendar private – even if I’m not sharing the full details of my appointments.  So, it looks like I’ll have to set up my own WebDav server (security by obscurity is not ideal either) just to publish from Outlook (connected to Exchange) to Outlook.com (and on to my family’s Windows 8.1 PC).

Incidentally, whilst working on this issue, I stumbled on an interesting post about “private” items in Outlook/Exchange – they may not be as private as you think!

Motoring Technology

Hardware lineup for 2014

For the last few years, I’ve written a post about my “hardware lineup” – the tech I use pretty much every day (2011, 2012, and 2013). This year, Dan Delaney reminded me when he borrowed the idea (and I originally stole it from someone else…) so here’s the belated 2014 line-up…

Car: Volkswagen Tiguan 2.0 TDI Sport

I’m still enjoying my current company car even as it approaches its 2 year anniversary and am actively working to keep the mileage down as I may buy it at the end of the lease. Whilst I might be able to get a deal on a second hand Q7 or Toureg, this was specced up the way I wanted it  including a retractable towbar and I’m more than happy. Verdict 8/10. Hold (tied into a 3-year lease).

Phones: Apple iPhone 4S and Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini

Windows Phone 7.8 was a disappointment and the lack of apps for the Windows Phone platform means I’ve gone back to iOS for my personal phone (second-hand from the SmartfoneStore), although I hope to jailbreak it to get some of the features that are missing for me in iOS 7. Meanwhile, my company iPhone 3GS has been replaced with an Android model (the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini), which is infuriating in many ways but at least lets me get experience of working with the other dominant mobile platform. (iPhone) Verdict 7/10. Hold – something new is too expensive. (Galaxy Mini) Verdict 5/10. Not mine to sell!

Tablet: Apple iPad 3G 64GB

Apple iPadMy iPad never replaced a laptop as a primary computer but it’s still great as a Kindle, for catching up on social media content, and for casual gaming (read, occasional babysitter and childrens’ amusement on long car journeys). I was disappointed to have to pay to replace it after the screen developed a fault, but there’s no reason to trade up yet, especially since we bought a touch PC for the family (read on). If anything, I might consider a smaller tablet (maybe a Google Nexus 7 or a Tesco Hudl). Verdict 5/10. Hold, although it’s getting old now.

Everyday PC: Fujitsu Lifebook P702 (Intel Core i5 3210M 2.5GHz, 8GB RAM, 320GB hard disk)

This PC is my main computing device and is a small form-factor replacement for the previous Lifebook I used.  I like it, but a BYOC scheme would be more likely to leave me buying a competitor’s PC. Just as well we only have CYOD! Verdict 7/10. Still hoping for a BYOC scheme at work but not holding my breath.

Family PC: Lenovo Flex 15 (Intel Core i5 4200U 1.6GHz, 4GB RAM, 500GB hard disk)

Lenovo Flex 15When it eventually arrived, I set this PC up with Windows 8.1, Office 2013 and an account for everyone in the family.  It’s been a huge hit – the kids love it and I find it really useful to have a PC in the kitchen/family room.  I’m glad I held out for a touch screen – Windows 8 is so much better with Touch – but I should possibly have got something with a bit more memory… Verdict 8/10. A bit underpowered but a good balance between price and form factor.

Netbook: Lenovo S10e (Intel Atom N270 1.6GHz, 2GB RAM, 160GB hard disk)

Lenovo IdeaPad S10Rarely taken out of the drawer – only used when I want to play with Linux (Ubuntu) or upload some new code to the Arduino. Verdict 2/10. Not worth selling, so keep for tech projects.

Digital Cameras: Nikon D700 and Coolpix P7100

Nikon D700Nikon P7100Although I’ve fallen out of love with photography, I’m sure I’ll get back on the wagon some time. A full-frame DSLR is still my favourite format and the D700 will be with me for a while yet. Indeed, it’s more likely that I would buy some new lenses and a flashgun before I replace my camera body.  Newer bodies offer video but I don’t miss that, and the low light performance on the D700 is pretty good. The P7100 continues to function as my carry-everywhere camera (it lives in the car), offering entry-level DSLR levels of control in a small package, although it’s not as responsive as I’d like and I increasingly tolerate using the iPhone instead (poor camera, but always with me). (D700) Verdict 9/10. Hold. (P7100) Verdict 6/10. Hold.

Photography PC: Apple MacBook MB062LL/B (Intel Core 2 Duo T7500 2.2GHz, 4GB RAM, 750GB hard disk)

Apple Macbook White (late 2007)My MacBook is getting old and, although I upgraded to a 750GB disk, I’m struggling with disk space whilst 4GB of RAM is starting to feel a bit light for big Photoshop jobs but new Macs are expensive. Still too expensive to replace, but as long as I’m not doing much photography, this will last a while longer… Verdict 4/10. Hold.

Media: Samsung UE37ES6300 Smart TV

Samsung UE37ES6300Our late-2012 technology purchase, this replaced an aging (c1998) Sony Trinitron 32″ widescreen CRT and Internet-connected television is now an integral part of my family’s media consumption habit with my children watching more iPlayer content than live.  The software is a little “buggy” but it does the job – as a half decent TV it’s more than adequate and I’m thinking of getting a 22″ version for the den (when we build one…) Verdict 9/10. Hold.

Media: Apple Mac Mini MA206LL/A (Intel Core Duo 1.66GHz, 2GB RAM, 120GB hard disk)

(+ iPad, iPhone 4S, various iPods, Altec Lansing iM7 iPod speakers, Samsung UE37ES6300) Apple Mac MiniNo change here since last year and I still haven’t re-ripped my CDs after the NAS failure a couple of years ago (although the Dell server I bought a few years ago has come out of retirement in preparation for that task). We bought a Yamaha PSR E-343 music keyboard for my son this Christmas so this PC may be brought back to life with Garage Band or as a media server as it takes up almost no space at all. Verdict 6/10. Hold.

Gaming: Microsoft Xbox 360 S 250GB with Kinect Sensor

Microsoft Xbox 360sI don’t play this as much as I should but my sons make more and more use of it, and bought me a copy of FIFA 2014 for Christmas, so the Xbox is starting to get a lot more use. No plans to replace it with a newer model though. Verdict 7/10. Hold.

Servers and Storage: Raspberry Pi, 2x Netgear ReadyNAS Duo, various USB HDDs

The Raspberry Pi has replaced my atom-based infrastructure PC, whilst one ReadyNAS is used to back up my work and the other has still not been recovered from its multiple disk failure a couple of years ago.  I still need to consolidate the various USB hard drives onto the  3GB Seagate Backup Plus Desktop drive and sort out the various cloud-based services that I use. (Raspberry Pi) Verdict 10/10. What’s not to like about a computer that costs just £25? (ReadyNAS Duo) Verdict 5/10. RAID failures mean I’ve lost confidence.

Other tech: Arduino Uno, Canon ImageFormula P-215 document scanner

I’m still occasionally playing around with electronics using an Arduino – although I need to do more with this. I’m also slowly regaining control over my filing using the document scanner (and it’s very cathartic shredding old documents!) (Arduino Uno) Verdict 10/10. Inexpensive, with loads of scope for electronic prototyping and a thriving community for support. (Canon P-215) Verdict 9/10. Impressive scanner, although a little on the expensive side.

Potential new toys: Nest learning thermostatLego Mindstorms

Just as last year, I still have my eyes on home automation and tech toys but budgets (and other hobbies) mean they are unlikely to become real for a while yet.  A smart watch is a possibility too… just waiting for the right one…

Technology Waffle and randomness

Some thoughts on wearable tech…

Almost a year ago, I wrote a great blog post about the rise of wearable technology. I know it was great, possibly my best ever, and it was inspired by some thoughts on the journey to work, hurriedly scribbled on a piece of paper when I got to the office, waiting to be fleshed out with research and published. Except you won’t find it anywhere, because I accidentally put the scrap of paper into the confidential waste bin…

Wearable hype

Fast forward to January 2014 and it seems that wearable tech is at the peak of the hype curve. I haven’t actually checked the analyst reports – it’s just an observation based on the tech news that’s reached me of late, particularly since CES.

So, whether it’s personal health and fitness, location tracking, lifeblogging, information on the move – or something else we haven’t thought of yet – wearable seems to be the first buzzword of 2014. But the key to making it successful is an ecosystem for devices to work together. My data is only useful when combined with other data – islands of Fitbit, Nike fuel band, Google Glass (bad example – we’ll come back to that in a moment) and other data sources are really just of personal interest/vanity (a bit like me publishing my exercise activities on Facebook) until they are combined to actually mean something. Whilst Cisco’s vision of a connected world sounds a little too Orwellian for me, there is definitely something there – could wearable tech, combined other machine to machine (M2M) communications (e.g. home automation) provide enough benefits to make us all sign up?

That’s where we come to Google. The current incarnation of Google Glass may be a bit clunky, but it will improve. Google’s acquisition of Nest is surely intended to provide a foothold in home M2M communications. Most people seem increasingly accepting of the ad agency’s services*, being prepared to exchange our personal data for “free” services that are of value. Google is about data. Vast amounts of it – and we’re generating more and more!

The personal communications hub

So what’s at the centre of all of this tech – surely something is needed to act as a broker, to combine data feeds and act as a personal communications hub in an ever-connected world? Ah yes, communications hub – that will be our smartphones then. Forget about where we will put the wearable clothing. As the technology develops the sensors become less obtrusive and less noticable.

 

The smartphone, meanwhile, remains as the voice, video, and data device that we carry about our person at all times. Increasingly powerful, with better battery life and containing a plethora of sensors, it can interact with others about our person and provide the conduit for our personal data streams – to and from the ‘net. Google is well placed with its online services, Android operating system, and recent steps into the wearable tech and M2M marketplaces (indeed, I’d argue that wearables are just one part of a much wider M2M market but it will be difficult to separate them soon). The question is, in this “post-PC” world, what are Apple and Microsoft doing to follow? An Apple iWatch has been rumoured for years – and I’m sure it will offer a vastly improved experience compared with Samsung’s Galaxy Gear but for now it’s just vapourware (or is that vapourwear?). Microsoft had the idea of building connected screens for its devices a few years ago but they just didn’t take off. Google’s Glass is the closest anyone has come to something that might just be acceptable in the marketplace but I firmly beleive that the watch/glasses/whatever-the-wearable-interface-is is simply that – an interface – something to use instead of pulling our smartphones out of our pocket.

One thing’s for sure, as wearables and M2M comms become more and more established, we’ll start to see some amazing uses for technology – as long as the privacy concerns can be overcome. It’s a bit too soon to say who will dominate, but short of a new entrant taking the market by storm, or an industry-wide federation of companies creating an ecosystem for smart devices, my money is on Google.

Random thoughts

This is certainly not my best ever blog post – perhaps it’s little more than a jumbled collection of thoughts – but at least I got something on the web this time (unlike the thoughts I had on virtual currencies in 2011, that never got further than an item on the “to do” list).  Talking of random thoughts, that reminds me… somewhere I have a t-shirt with built in light-up graphic equaliser – is that an example of mid-2000s wearable tech?

* I believe that most of the Google’s revenues still come from search, but clearly not in the UK or else there would be corporation taxes to pay.

Technology

My email SLA

Returning to work this week after almost two weeks with my family was not pleasant. In particular, I knew that I had over 1500 items in my three inboxes (direct, copied, external) and I’d long since abandoned Inbox Zero (despite loving my mental state when I do get it working for me).  I’d intended to use the last couple of days before Christmas to fix this, but found myself working on various crises until I finally logged off for the holidays (and afterwards too…)

This week, I’ve tweeted a couple of times on what might be called “productivity tips” or teaching others how you expect to engage.  It started out with an excellent email 101 post from Wes Miller (@getwired) which looks at something many organisations suffer with – too many meetings, and too much email. For me, the last paragraph says it all:

Then, last night, I saw that Alan Berkson (@berkson0) wrote an article for Social Media Today aimed at setting expectations for customer service. Even if you don’t interact directly with customers, it’s highly likely that you have “internal customers” – people in your organisation who rely on you to respond to their requests. So, I’ve taken his tip to update my email signature to set expectations re: replies – call it an “email SLA” if you like – after all, email is an asynchronous communication mechanism:

“Please note that, whilst I generally try to respond to emails sent directly to me within 24 hours, this is not always possible. If your message is urgent (i.e. requires same-day or next-day action), please feel free to call me and, if necessary, leave a message on my mobile phone.  My Calendar is also open to view. Messages on which I’m copied (CC or BCC) are assumed to be for information only and it may be longer before they are read/acted upon.”

Added to that, my out of office message is frequently set, even when I’m in the office, just to say “I’m really, really busy and these are the people who might be able to help whilst I can’t”.

One final point, whilst you’re setting expectations around email, share your calendar too… getting others to look at it before booking meetings/calling you – well, that’s another issue entirely…

Waffle and randomness

Good old fashioned incandescent light bulbs

The main light bulb blew in our living room earlier this week. Nothing unusual there – it happens. Except have you tried to buy a dimmable, bayonet fitted, pearl finish, low energy, 100W equivalent bulb? If anyone has found one, I’d be interested to know more because, for the life of me, I can’t find a modern replacement.

Luckily, our local independent hardware store (no relation) still stock “old skool” lightbulbs, so we’ve stocked up.  I like to be more energy efficient where it makes sense but the major retailers who have stopped stocking these bulbs have done so because they were lobbied by government the bulbs are inefficient – except all that heat they give off is not going to waste… it just means the central heating doesn’t need to work so hard, surely?

Of course, I’d like to save money, just like the next man, but have you tried to navigate the maze of light bulbs in the average DIY store recently?

Unfortunately, it looks as though the dimmer switch has failed too as the new bulbs won’t fully illuminate in the living room (but are fine elsewhere)… that’ll be a job for me this weekend then…

Technology

Remembering the changes made to my blog’s theme

Every year I need to update the copyright notice on my blog, and every year I forget where to do it in the theme for the site.

I should use a dynamic copyright date, as suggested by James Bavington (@jamesbavington):


Or perhaps this more elegant solution highlighted to me by Garry Martin (@garrymartin) but my late night coding changes just broke my blog, so I did it the old way.  Whilst I was at it, I applied an updated version of the theme, so this post is more of a “note to self” of the things I need to change when theme updates come along:

  • Include the various items in the header.php file that are needed for Google (and others) site verification, Google Analytics, Facebook Like button, Google+ badge, better search results, etc.
  • Put back in the style.css stylesheet amendments that adjust colours, etc.
  • Edit the functions.php file to make sure that the footer_link() function has the correct attribution and copyright notice…
Technology

Could low cost tablets actually knock the iPad off its perch?

Last weekend, my family went on a theatre trip to the Pantomime.  After Snow White had been rescued from her slumber by a charming prince, there was a short interlude whilst “Herbert the henchman” invited children with “golden tickets” onto the stage.  Asking one six-year-old what she had received for Christmas, she said “A Hudl“.

The bemused actor had not heard of a Hudl before and she went on to explain “it’s like an iPad, but without the button”.

Aside from amusing me that the Tesco device might actually have a name that could catch on with consumers (cf. the Kindle Fire HD that my kids referred to as “an iPad Kindle”), this got me thinking.  Could the low cost tablets from Tesco, Argos, et al be about to shake the iPad off it’s perch? I was reading a Which report over Christmas which lauded the iPad Mini as a great small form factor tablet but it’s expensive. Meanwhile even my Mum has bought a £100 Acer tablet (I wish she’d spoken to me first but, never mind).

My father-in-law was amazed that six-year-olds would be given a tablet but I highlighted that, at £120 (or as low as £60 with Clubcard vouchers) it was a consumable device – and that’s the beauty. It doesn’t have to be great, just good enough and cheap.  After all, my very expensive 64GB 3G first generation iPad was thrown on the scrap-heap by Apple with a lack of OS updates etc. after about 2 years.  Why spend £700 when I can spend far less and upgrade more frequently? The Google Nexus may be technically superior but buying a £120 tablet is very low risk.

Let me be clear: Apple has some great premium products – but with mass market acceptance of Android they have a problem. Whilst some of my friends have purchased iPad Minis for the family (one Christmas day Facebook update read “Operation iPad Mini declared a success – never seen the children so quiet”), how many more will go for the low cost option from the supermarket?

Technology

RasPi Wi-Fi

Way back in the autumn of 2012, I was getting all excited about my Raspberry Pi. I even hacked around to get it working over Wi-Fi but never got around to publishing the post!  So, a year and a bit later, here are a few notes based on some links I recorded at the time. Your mileage may vary (the Raspberry Pi has come a long way since then and I was running Debian Squeeze rather than Raspbian) but if you’re having difficulties getting RasPi Wi-Fi to work, hopefully some of this will help.

The Wi-Fi adapter that I used was an Edimax EW-7811Un nano USB adapter which I seem to recall I originally purchased from Maplin before returning it when I realised it was much less expensive online.  There are some good notes on the Raspberry Pi verified peripherals list that may help (much better than when I was working on this in 2012).

Tomasz Miklas’ post provided a ton of information on configuring the operating system to work with the adapter, as did this guide on elinux.org.  If you have trouble with the Realtek drivers, there’s a post that may help - you might want to read it in conjunction with these notes on the Raspberry Pi forums.  I also found that I had to use the sudo bash scriptname.sh command, rather than just sudo scriptname.sh. The final resource I found in my notes was Mr Engman’s “idiots guide” to RTL8188CUS Wi-Fi setup.

So, there you have it – ingredients but no method, I’m afraid.  I also found that the WiFi reliability depended on which other peripherals were plugged in to the RasPi (for example I use a cheap mini wireless keyboard and mouse set from Maplin) and I had some success with a powered USB hub (a Logik LT4HUB10).  Since then, I’ve switched over to a 1500mA power supply from The Pi Hut but am not sure it’s made much difference.

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